For three straight weeks after Austin Allen was injured against South Carolina Bret Bielema played a thinly disguised cat and mouse game with the media as to Allen's availability for games against Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss. It was fairly obvious the fifth year senior was not ready to return to the playing field even as his throwing shoulder improved.
The Coastal Carolina game was different. Bielema indicated that although he would not start, Allen would likely play perhaps as early as the second quarter against the 1-7 Chanticleers. The general belief was that Allen would take the field as soon as it became apparent that the Razorbacks had the game in hand.
That never happened.
It took a one-yard run by freshman Cole Kelley with 1:55 left in the game for the Hogs to squeak out a 39-38 win. Bielema indicated at his Monday press conference that he didn't feel comfortable changing the flow of the offense by putting Allen back on the field.
So will Kelley start his fifth straight game Saturday against LSU?
"Well I think he can be the starter," Bielema responded when asked that question. "There's no reason to change where we're going. To give us the best chance to win you have to take that part into it."
Bielema also admitted that even though Allen has been cleared to play for over two weeks and has been getting more and more reps in practice the fact that he hasn't been on the playing field for a month has to be taken into consideration.
"There obviously is a concern," the head coach stressed. "Anytime you have a guy who hasn't played, to step in and especially as daunting as LSU's Stadium is and as good as their defense is, that can be an issue."
But seconds later Bielema also said, "I'd be very, very comfortable with Austin playing anywhere from one rep to every rep."
There is also an issue with Kelley who was noticeably limping just before halftime of the Coastal Carolina game after getting one of his toes stepped on. Bielema revealed that Kelley will be wearing a boot in practice this week but downplayed the development by calling the boot, "fully functional and shouldn't be an issue for him during the course of practice."
Still offensive coordinator Dan Enos appeared to leave the door open for Allen's return telling reporters, "Right now we're going into tomorrow (Tuesday) say 50-50 (on practice reps between Kelley and Allen) and then if somebody's not feeling good or can't practice as long or whatever then obviously the other guy will get the majority."
The number of quality practice reps is often used by Enos to determine who starts when there's a question between two players for the same position on the field.
Bielema's gave a standard response when asked when he will name a starting quarterback for the LSU game: "Anything that could be a strategic advantage for us better stay in house and show up on Saturday." But Bielema likely tipped his hand on the subject while discussing the excitement the team's Louisiana players are feeling heading into this weekend's trip to Baton Rouge.
"You have to be a little bit cautious with it," Bielema observed. "Anytime you're dealing with guys like that. For instance Cole. Cole's a young quarterback that's very excited. He always plays with high energy, high emotion and now he goes to his home crowd and he's gonna be a starting quarterback. That's a lot of emotions for him to deal with."
But the mixed messages continued when Bielema added, "I will tell you this: I'll bet you no one's pulling for Austin to play more than Cole if that makes sense."
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